Review | Batman: Arkham Asylum
Format: 360/PS3/PC | Genre: Action-adventure | Publisher: Eidos | Developer: Rocksteady | Release date: 28/08/09 | RRP: £29.99-£49.99
By Lewis Denby
Though Arkham Asylum is a game with a number of slight problems, the absolute worst part of the experience is the end.
It’s partly because the final boss battle is something of an anticlimax, beatable with minimal effort and finished off via a cut-scene rather than your own actions. But mainly, it’s because it’s followed by the gutting realisation that your time on Arkham Island has come to a close. This hyper-paced, hyper-polished action-adventure doesn’t just raise the bar for licensed games everywhere – it does so for the entire genre.
BioShock’s a name that’s been bandied around a lot during the discussion so far. Though the comparison’s crude, it does go some way to capturing the essence of Arkham Asylum. Despite the difference in perspective and Batman’s focus on melee combat, the two games share a gritty comic panache, a heavily twisted and expertly delivered narrative, and a cohesive, crippled beauty to their worlds. They’re also not a great deal apart in terms of quality.
While Arkham Asylum’s story isn’t as deeply intelligent as BioShock’s, and relies perhaps a little too much on cut-scene exposition, it’s perfectly formed into something that utterly suits this sort of videogame. Beginning with the Joker’s suspiciously easy arrest, quickly followed by his escape and prompt takeover of the eponymous asylum, Batman’s plot is deftly paced, with twists and turns dropped more frequently than any other title that immediately springs to mind. There’s never an enormous, breathtaking reveal, but that works: the shock here is how driven the story is, how relentlessly its events unfold, and how seamlessly they’re intergrated into the game itself.
//A world apart
Impressively, it’s a story that works equally well no matter whether you’re familiar with the Batman universe or not. It’s completely self-contained, though if you fancy boosting your knowledge there are collectible audio tapes of interviews with various villains, and expansive character profiles that unlock each time you meet someone new. Yet despite this, the fan service is incredible. The sheer amount of arch-nemeses that find a home in Arkham Asylum is mind-blowing, especially when everything always stays just on the right side of clutter. And with perhaps one exception, each plays a spectacularly memorable role, drawing the Dark Knight further into their twisted criminal worlds with every new section of the game.
With a faultlessly written script, and some of the most impressively suited voice acting in videogames, it manages to remain thoroughly captivating throughout. This is a dark and gritty interpretation of Batman, but very much a comic-book one, so the reprisal of roles from most of Batman: The Animated Series’ cast is a perfect fit. Arkham Island is a heavily stylised world, with rusting, leaking metal giving way to ornate Gothic architecture, and even to lush, green plant life. It’s a world that feels alive despite its relatively static nature, and the perfect setting for what unfolds.
Although Arkham Asylum starts off more linear than the M1, it quickly opens up into an impressively explorable place. The first couple of hours take place inside the main asylum building, but quickly you’ll have a range of areas to discover, from exotic gardens to dank sewage systems, enormous mansions to the Batcave itself.